Abel Ganz is a band from Scotland that has been active since 1980. Most people know that former Pallas lead singer Alan Reed used to sing on their albums, however they never really got the attention which Pallas got in the media. Too bad, because all of their five previously released studio albums contain excellent progressive rock music. The same can be said about their latest release, which they simply titled Abel Ganz. This album saw the light of day in 2014.
Since to their former album Shooting Albatross (2008), two original members have left the band, you can still hear them on this new release. Hew Montgomery played a keyboard solo and Hugh Carter played some parts on his acoustic guitar as well as singing some backing vocals. The musician that stayed on and the ones who replaced the aforementioned musicians certainly did a very good job on the band's sixth studio album. All of the recorded compositions are of a very high level.
The album starts in a rather classical way; Delusions Of Grandeur sounds a lot like chamber music. The combination of oboe (played by Sarah Cruickshank), violins/violas (played by Iona's Frank van Essen) and acoustic piano (played by the band's keyboard player at the time of the recording namely Jack Webb) worked very well and certainly sound very beautiful on this short instrumental piece. Very beautiful is also the music that follows directly. It has the title Obsolescence and is divided into five strong parts. The first part has the title Sunrise. Here it is as if you are listening to the Genesis albums Trespass (1907) and Nursery Cryme (1971). Also, sometimes you have the impression Anthony Phillips or Steve Hackett played the acoustic guitars. Furthermore, the harmony vocals are really excellently done. Part two has the title Evening and goes into a musical direction which reminds me of bands such as The Strawbs and Horslips. The strong pedal steel guitar parts, played by Ian Sloan, certainly helped me make this comparison. Part three has the title Close Your Eyes and moves towards a style that made me think about Yes and early Marillion, mainly because of the Chris Squire-type of playing bass player Stevie Donnelly and the great synth solo by Hew Montgomery, which reminded me of Mark Kelly. During the start of part four, which got the title The Dream, the music again goes back to the early days of Genesis and Anthony Phillips. The flute played by David Carlton sounds really beautiful, and what to think about the amazing climax they reached at the end of this tune, where a kind of Rick Wakeman Church organ can be heard (played by the current keyboard player Stephen Lightbody), and The Enid pops up for a moment before the songs ends too. The final part is titled Dawn. During this second instrumental track the electric guitar played by the bands excellent lead singer Stuart "Mick" MacFarlane takes the lead. For a moment I was back in the days when Jan Akkerman performed a cool solo when he played in Focus.
The next instrumental, Spring, can be seen as a nice intermezzo, performed on the acoustic guitars by the earlier mentioned Mr. MacFarlane. On Recuerdos for the first time the comparison with Big Big Train could be made. Just like this band Abel Ganz incorporate brass parts in their music very well. Responsible for those beautiful brass parts were John Milner (tuba and trombone) and Alistair McGhee (trumpet and flugelhorn). Furthermore, I can't hold back about the way they mixed the sound of grasshoppers with the sound of acoustic guitars. Heartland is a kind of solo piece played by Mr. Webb. Accompanied only by the beautiful voice of Joy Dunlop and the voices of children, he turned this track into a kind of mellow Gaelic piece of music, on which he included fine Mellotron samples. End Of Rain starts with acoustic guitars again, before more bombastic keyboards take over. During this track, the low whistle played by Stevie Lawrence and the aforementioned Stevie Donnelly take a leading role. Mr. Donnelly can be heard very strongly on bass pedals and fretless bass. Thank You starts on acoustic guitar once again and sounds like a real Scottish country/folk tune and moved towards bands like Wally and Horslips. A Portion Of Noodles is the second acoustic guitar instrumental, before the second long piece of music can be enjoyed, which was played by Mick again; once more reminding me of Anthony Phillips. Unconditional starts with a radio message before the whole band starts to play. The band's drummer Denis Smith plays a strong beat, together with the band's bass player, before moving into a jazzy type of music. Miles Davis meets Dave Brubeck thanks to the trumpet lines of Mr. Mc Ghee and Webb's piano parts. Furthermore, the same Webb performs a very strong organ solo along the way. Strangely enough, the song then moves on into a kind of Latin tune. Mainly the congas played by Ed Higgins are to blame, however the song still has a rock sound thanks to the excellent guitar solos by the band's guitarist Davie Mitchell, William Barbero and the lead singer. The album ends with The Drowning. Here again, the Big Big Train-kind of brass parts can be heard. The song sounds a lot like a Tim Bowness kind of ballad and ends the album on a very mellow note.
The band's mix of several styles throughout the entire album, works very well on Abel Ganz. The sometimes folky, slightly jazzy and playful classic ingredients certainly enriches the progressive rock this band makes. Everything is done very tastefully and therefore the album has to be heard in one go. This way the many different moods and styles can be enjoyed in the best possible way. Don't pick out a single track and play it. I don't think the musicians involved would have liked you to do that. Finally, I also have to give a big complement because the art work; the winter and autumnal landscapes reflect the music you hear on the disc in this digi-pak very well!
I can only be positive about the latest effort by Abel Ganz. For me, this album is one of the best releases in the progressive rock genre in 2014 so far. Too bad they never made it big like Pallas; they certainly deserve it, and even more after releasing this amazing album!
****+ Henri Strik (edited by Esther Ladiges)
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